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  • Writer's pictureChristine Coulson

Mindful Drinking: A harmful oxymoron or helpful step to reframing the way we think about alcohol?

woman meditating and being mindful on a deck in the sunshine

I recently saw (and responded to) a post on Instagram by sober stalwart Michael Sargood. You can see the post here.

In it, Michael makes a very valid point - is the term 'mindful drinking' ridiculous?? Where are the Mindful Smokers? There is no need for me to paraphrase - he states "Putting the word "mindful" in front of drinking makes it sound like a spiritual or mental-health enhancing practice on a par with yoga or breathwork. Whereas in reality, it's no more than a form of harm reduction, like getting a regular portion of fries with your Big Mac instead of super-sizing it or going to a poker game and only staking your car instead of your house."

In my response I talked about mindful drinking realting to being 'mindful' of why you drink - the defintion of 'mindful' is, after all, "being conscious or aware of something".

However, it also means "focusing one's awareness on the present moment, especially as part of a therapeutic or meditative technique." There is nothing 'therapeutic or meditative' about drinking something that is linked to seven cancers. Type 'mindful' into Etsy and you get presented with a range of journals, meditation cards and, confusingly, candles.

Does 'mindful drinking' give the impression of 'healthy drinking'? Actually, yes - I think Michael's right. It does. While the common parlance is to use 'mindful' as a synonym for healthly practice, 'mindful drinking' is, indeed a harmful oxymoron.

So you may ask what was behind my defense of the term. Well, it stems from my history with it - and something I currently do.

The first 'quit lit' book I engaged with (not owned, which is a very different situation) was 'How To Be A Mindful Drinker' from the guys behind Club Soda. If truth be told, I picked up that book because I genuinely thought it would help me cut down. It was only when I was going through the exercises; doing 'the work' that I realised that, actually, I wanted to quit. Would I have engaged with the book to the same level if the title had promoted quitting? I'm not sure.

Even now, I regularly deliver a talk on Mindful drinking. You may even be reading this because you've sat through one of these talks, and now follow my social media off the back of it. In this talk (spoiler alert), I talk about how sobriety has been the best thing I have ever done; but it's not for everyone. I give some facts on alcohol; talk about what it does and how being aware of why you're drinking and how that can be the point to think of healthier coping mechanisms, or alternative drink options.

Off the back of Michael's post, I now also make it clear what defintion of 'mindful' I am using - and that drinking alcohol isn't a healthy practice.

I have considered changing the name of that talk; but the thing is I often deliver it to people who haven't expressly asked for it. Networking groups; social groups etc. My using the term 'mindful drinking', I am aware that I'm jumping on the marketing bandwagon in the hope that people won't see the title and assume I'm going to preach about sobriety and immediately turn off.

I use it as part of my 'education' tools - raising awareness of quitting alcohol for health and lifestyle reasons and removing the stigma for the term 'sobriety'. Sort of like the parents who disguise carrots in meals they feed their children, I sneak the truth about alcohol in there, hoping that it will be the 'starter kit' for people who are perhaps ready to think about their drinking.

So to ask - "Mindful Drinking: A harmful oxymoron or helpful step to reframing the way we think about alcohol?" I think the answer is 'yes'.

If you're at the stage where you are starting to consider your drinking habits, you may be interested in a webinar that I'm hosting next month. "Am I drinking too much?" ... and other questions you may be asking yourself is aimed at people who are questioning their relationship with alcohol but don't know where to start. You can find out information and book tickets here:

Photo by Jared Rice on Unsplash

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